UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council’s five permanent members agreed on Wednesday on a draft resolution that would ratchet up sanctions against North Korea by concentrating on its financial transactions and its arms industry, including allowing for inspections of its cargo vessels on the high seas.
The sharply worded resolution, while diluting some of the sanctions sought by the West and Japan, would still serve notice on North Korea that its nuclear and other weapons programs had created sufficient alarm to forge a rare unified front among the world’s major powers.
Written by the United States, the resolution came after more than two weeks of negotiations among the five permanent members — China, Russia, the United States, Britain and France — as well as with Japan and South Korea. It was presented to the full Security Council on Wednesday, and although no timetable for a vote was announced, it could come as early as Friday. Given its supporters, the measure seems assured of passing.
Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador, told reporters, “Having sanctions and things like that is not our choice, but a certain political message must be sent, and some measures must be taken, because we are facing a very real situation of proliferation risks.”
North Korea did not react immediately, although its reclusive government has said in the past that ship inspections or other intrusive steps would be considered acts of war. If the resolution is approved, the next hurdle will be ensuring its highly technical provisions are all carried out. Not all resolutions are equally respected by United Nations member states, and, as Ambassador Jorge Urbina of Costa Rica noted, the draft resolution is complex.
The biggest question mark involved China, which has been reluctant to deploy the full weight of its influence on North Korea out of fear of destabilizing it amid a leadership transition. But various analysts suggested that it would not have publicly backed such sanctions unless it was serious about responding to North Korea’s underground nuclear test on May 25.
“They are deeply troubled by North Korean actions,” Jonathan D. Pollack, a professor of Asian and Pacific studies at the Naval War College, said in a telephone interview from Beijing.
The nuclear test followed a series of confrontational actions taken by the North, largely reversing every step it had taken to abandon its nuclear program in recent years.
“It is important for there to be consequences, and this sanctions regime, if passed by the Security Council, will bite and bite in a meaningful way,” said Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador, who shepherded the resolution through the negotiations.
The United States and its allies had wanted the draft resolution to include mandatory cargo inspections, if there was reasonable suspicion that the cargo was weapons-related — something Washington had been seeking outside the United Nations during the Bush years through its Proliferation Security Initiative. But China and Russia balked at mandatory inspections. In a compromise, the resolution requests that states inspect ships on the high seas. If the country where the ship is registered decided to reject an inspection in international waters, then the country would be required to direct the vessel to a nearby harbor for an inspection. If neither happened, the episode would be reported to the Security Council’s sanctions committee. The resolution also suggests that states should cut off “bunkering” services, like refueling, for North Korean vessels.
It is assumed that North Korea would balk at any inspections of its ships, analysts noted, and the resolution does not come under a United Nations provision that would allow the use of force as the ultimate fallback. The sanctions basically fleshed out measures that were first listed in a Security Council resolution passed after North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006. They were never enacted, because the North agreed to participate in talks to dismantle the program.
The draft resolution condemns the latest North Korean nuclear test, demanding that North Korea conduct no more tests and that it suspend its ballistic missile program and rejoin the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The theme salted throughout the resolution is choking off anything that might feed the country’s nuclear and weapons programs, including a complete arms embargo, with the exception of small weapons.
Arms generate significant earnings for North Korea, Ms. Rice said, “and we think it important that that source of revenue be entirely curtailed.”
Analysts said the proposed sanctions with the most bite might be the financial ones. They called upon member states to cut off financial services related to the North’s nuclear and weapons programs, to avoid any new grants or loans to the country and to halt other trade support like export credits. Financial transactions for humanitarian or development purposes would be allowed.
William H. Tobey, the former senior Bush administration official for nuclear nonproliferation, who is now at Harvard’s Belfer Center, said that North Korea imported about $3 billion in goods annually, $2 billion of it from China. It exports about $1.5 billion legally, so it needs significant credit to make up the difference. “It would put a significant crimp in their ability to import,” he said of the financial sanctions.
In recent years, efforts to sanction rogue states like Zimbabwe have foundered on the split between Russia and China, on one side, and Western nations on the other. The fact that all five permanent Security Council members agreed on the draft showed how seriously they viewed the gradual global decay in the nuclear nonproliferation treaty — a message aimed not only at North Korea but at other countries suspected of trying to develop nuclear weapons, like Iran.
“They have to get North Korea right, because it has implications for the entire nonproliferation regime,” said Robert C. Orr, the United Nations assistant secretary-general for policy planning.
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